Channel NewsAsia

Militants attack Pakistani airbases, eight gunmen killed

Gunmen armed with automatic weapons, grenades and wearing suicide vests attacked two military airbases in southwestern Pakistan early Friday (Aug 15), leaving eight militants dead after Pakistan security forces opened fire, officials said.

QUETTA, Pakistan: Gunmen armed with automatic weapons, grenades and wearing suicide vests attacked two military airbases in southwestern Pakistan early Friday (Aug 15), leaving eight militants dead after Pakistan security forces opened fire, officials said.

Sarfaraz Bugti, the home minister of insurgency-hit Baluchistan province, said that militants had tried to storm the Samungli airbase, used by Pakistan's Air Force, and Khalid military airbase, both in the provincial capital Quetta, but had failed to penetrate either perimeter.

"The operation at both the bases is over and eight militants have been killed, five at Samungli and three others at Khalid airbase," Colonel Maqbool Ahmed, in charge of the operation, said. "The gun fights with militants which started overnight around 10pm (1am Singapore time) continued till 7.30am, in which seven security forces personnel were also wounded."

The targets of the attacks were the airbases, which are situated 12 kilometres apart in Quetta, he added. Ahmed said that attackers wearing suicide bombs arrived in a Suzuki pickup at the rear of the perimeter of Samungli base adjacent to houses and markets and made a hole in the wall.

"When security forces engaged the attackers and fired bullets, they blew themselves up," he said. Ahmed said all five men appeared to be of Central Asian or Uzbek origin. "At Khalid base three attackers were killed, two of them carried out suicide bombings," the colonel said, adding that two suspected militants were also arrested alive, one of them wounded.

A senior military official said rockets were fired at Samungli airbase, with two landing inside the perimeter fence. He said no damage was caused. Quetta city's police chief Abdul Razzaq Cheema said that militants first launched an attack on Samungli airbase before targeting Khalid military airbase around an hour later. Police had defused four bombs near the outer wall of Khalid airbase, he said.

NO RESPONSIBILITY CLAIMED

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the Taliban have threatened a bloody response to a recent Pakistan military offensive against militants in the North Waziristan tribal region. Pakistan launched the offensive in mid-June shortly after a brazen attack on Karachi airport that left dozens dead and extinguished a largely fruitless peace process with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Later that month, gunmen opened fire at a plane landing at Peshawar airport in the country's northwest, killing a passenger and wounding two crew members. The Pakistani Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan claimed joint responsibility for the Karachi airport attack.

North Waziristan has become a major base for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which rose up against the state in 2007, while the United States has long called for action in the area against militant groups targeting NATO forces in Afghanistan. More than 500 militants and 29 soldiers have been killed in the offensive so far, according to the military, though the death toll for insurgents cannot be independently confirmed.

Impoverished Baluchistan is wracked by an insurgency waged by ethnic Baluch tribes seeking greater autonomy from the federal government and a greater share of profits from the region's wealth of oil and gas resources. The region has also been hit by attacks blamed on Taliban militants.